Manatee season runs from November 15th through March 31st every year in Florida. During this time the manatees are known to head to the warmer spring water. One of the best parks for manatee sightings is Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida. Keep reading to learn all the details to plan a perfect day at Blue Spring State Park.
Blue Spring State Park – The Basics
- Address: 2100 W. French Avenue, Orange City, Florida 32763
- Driving distance from select Florida cities:
- Orlando: 40 minutes
- Jacksonville: 1 hour 45 minutes
- Gainesville: 2 hours
- Tampa: 2 hours
- Miami: 4 hours
- Hours: Open daily 8 AM until sundown
- Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; $4 single occupant vehicle
- Activities: Boat tours, camping, fishing, hiking, paddling, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, and tubing
Tips for visiting Blue Spring State Park
Make sure you have the right park! There are multiple “blue spring” state parks in Florida so if you are booking reservations ahead of time you want to ensure you are looking at the correct park.
- Blue Spring State Park located in Orange City, Florida
- Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park located in High Springs, Florida
- Madison Blue Spring State Park located in Lee, Florida
- Lafayette Blue Springs State Park located in Mayo, Florida
Get there early! This is important, as the park can reach capacity in the summer and winter. I wanted to get to the park when it opened and arrived a few minutes early. There were already a few cars lined up at the gate waiting to get in.
Check the temperature! If you want to see manatees the colder the weather is the better your chance of seeing manatees. Manatees cannot survive in water temperature below 68°F. The springs stay a consistent 72°F and that is why the manatees migrate to the springs in the winter.
Can I swim at Blue Spring State Park?
This depends on the time of year you decide to visit. You can swim in the springs from April to mid-November. Every year on November 15th the spring closes to all water activities to protect the manatee. This includes all swimming, snorkeling, diving, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Can I kayak, canoe, or paddle board?
Paddling is available in the springs during the summer season. Once the springs close to all water activities paddling is still available in the St. Johns River. Kayak and canoe rentals are available within the park from Blue Spring Adventures and the area to the springs is marked off with a rope in the water.
Blue Spring Adventures offers one hour, half day, and full day kayak or canoe rentals. Rentals are available daily from 8:30 AM to 3 PM, all rentals must be returned no later than 4 PM. Guided tours are also available. Tubing is available from April to mid-November. More information can be found here.
Outside of the park boundaries, Florida Kayak Tours also offers guided kayaking trips in the area. This tour allows you to kayak through parts of Blue Spring State Park and nearby Hontoon Island State Park. Reservations are recommended. More information can be found here.
How many manatees are there in Blue Spring State Park?
The number can vary by day and water temperature, but over 500 manatees have been spotted in the springs. Blue Spring State Park is known as the winter home to the manatee. The colder the water outside of the springs is the more manatee you are likely to see.
When you arrive at the park the ranger station has a sign that will give you an indication of how many manatee sightings there have been that day. Unfortunately, on the day I visited in mid-December the weather was still warm and a sad face was drawn on the sign. When I got to the springs, I was able to spot a total of 4 manatees, but others described previous visits when there were hundreds of manatees filling the springs.
There is a live stream video on the Florida State Parks website if you want the chance to view the manatee from the comfort of your own home. Click here to see the live stream. There is also an underwater camera on Blue Spring Adventures website. See the underwater camera here.
What else is there to do in Blue Spring State Park?
There are two main trails for hiking within the park. The first trail is the Blue Spring Trail, this is a short boardwalk that runs along the water.
If you are in the park, you cannot miss this trail. Enjoy a leisurely stroll surrounded by beautiful views. There are multiple observation platforms that you can stop at to search for manatees in the water. The trail is out and back and ends at the headspring.
The second hiking trail is a little more intense. Pine Island Hiking Trail can be accessed from the parking lot near the kayak and canoe rentals. This trail is 3.6 miles one way so if you
This trail is 3.6 miles one way so if you complete the entire trail, be prepared for approximately a 7-mile hike total. Additionally, there are two spur trails that loop off and return to the main trail which can add some additional distance.
Tour the Thursby House
If you want to learn a little more about the history of Blue Spring State Park I recommend taking a tour of the Thursby House. There are several informational displays to learn about the history of the Thursbys.
The Thursby’s arrived in 1856 to Blue Spring via steamboat and lived in a three-room log cabin for several years. The house that you can tour today was built in 1872 by Louis Thursby. Blue Spring served as an important stop for steamboats between Jacksonville and Enterprise. Eventually the railroads took over the steamboat industry and Blue Springs was no longer a frequent stop by steamboats. The house had additions since its original construction, including the third floor which was added in the early 1900’s. The first floor is open for self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday.
Can I stay at Blue Spring State Park?
Yes, if you want to spend a weekend exploring the park you can camp or rent a cabin within the park. There is a $6.70 reservation fee in addition to the nightly cost.
- Camping: $24 per night
- Cabin: $95 per night
Final Thoughts on Blue Spring State Park
The manatees are the highlight in the winter, but swimming, paddling, and even snorkeling are all fun summer activities. I also think the Blue Spring Trail is a must see for anyone visiting! Overall, Blue Spring State Park is one of the most beautiful springs I’ve visited and I highly recommend checking it out if you get the chance!
Looking to visit other Florida springs in the area? Check out this post on De Leon Springs State Park.
Looking for other places to see manatees in Florida? Check out this post on the Manatee Viewing Center.
The information above was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit Blue Spring State Park I recommend verifying information with the Florida State Park website.